When teachers have questions, who do they ask?
For second-grade teacher Annalise Carigon, having the support of an instructional coach means there’s always someone ready to provide a fresh, judgment-free perspective.
“When you’re not sure about something or you’re curious about trying something, it can be difficult to openly and honestly go to your peers or superiors with questions,” said Carigon, who regards Erica Philo, an instructional coach and interventionist at Zinser Elementary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as an ally and mentor. “There’s things she can see in my teaching that I can’t see. She can notice my strengths and notice things that I could try to do differently.”
Instructional coaches are an essential part of helping teachers build their confidence in trying new things and expanding their skills as they make the shift toward personalized, competency-based learning.
“I don’t report on teachers or grade them,” Philo said. She describes herself a neutral party. “I’m building trust, building a relationship, so that teachers aren’t afraid to ask for help.”
Here are five ways instructional coaches help scale student-centered learning practices:
- Instructional coaches have a big picture perspectiveon a district’s shared vision because they get to see progress at a more intimate level than administrators.
- They model for educators what practices and approaches look like within a personalized learning environment.
- The support and mentorship instructional coaches provide is aligned to the tenets of personalized learning.
- Their relationship-building with educators can increase the momentum and pacing of personalized, competency-based learning implementation because teachers have a mentor and someone to turn to with questions.
- Instructional coaches are an additional layer of distributive leadership that can speak to the “why” behind a district’s move toward personalized learning, helping to maintain the transparency of implementation.
“As teachers, we have really high expectations for ourselves. We want the best for our students,” said Carigon. “I know that Erica wants what’s best for our students, too. She’s willing to have hard conversations about best practice, to challenge and encourage me. We need more people in the profession who can be that point person for teachers.”